Public Art and the Future of Place with Angela Anderson Adams

February 28, 2023 | By Susan Soroko


Inviting artists to play a major role in designing and enhancing the civic realm shouldn’t be the byproduct of a sudden cultural shift brought on by a pandemic. It can’t be an afterthought or a quick fix to creating a unique place that will attract business and residents. And if you ask Arlington’s Public Art Director Angela Anderson Adams, a bold art plan for public art in a community might take nearly 40 years of investment and big visioning. 

Within its 26.2 square miles, there are now 77 art works in Arlington’s permanent public art collection, a collection that formally began in 1984 with Nancy Holt’s Dark Star Park in Rosslyn. Bold from the start, Holt asked to design the entire park site rather than solely a sculpture within the park, including a Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) right of way median.  

So, what does Arlington consider public art? And why is it so important? It can refer to a lot of things depending on where you are, but the vision for the County’s Public Art Program relies on the foundation of the Arlington County Board adopted Policy and Master Plan that prioritize an integrated approach to public art at the beginning of a project. From the onset of the Program, developers and private investment have been important to the goals of public art. Now, whether permanent or temporary, Arlington public art projects are synonymous with civic design and involve a wholistic approach of working alongside architecture, landscape design, wayfinding design, urban forestry, historic preservation and community input. 

In order for public art to bring the defining feature to a place, it must show up where business and people come together. For economic development, it’s part of what attracts companies to locate here, stay here and contribute to a memorable place for employees, residents and visitors. Over its nearly 40 years, Arlington’s Public Art Program continues to stick to the bold plan. Developers often exceed the minimum site plan negotiated community benefit with their on-site public art contributions. Outside support in the form of an award from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) “Our Town” grant program, enabled Arlington to invite artist and designer Walter Hood to reimagine the John Robinson, Jr. Town Square in Green Valley. This spring, Amazon will unveil three amazing projects in Metropolitan Park by artists Nekisha Durrett, Inigo Manglano-Ovalle, and Aurora Robson. With no signs of slowing down, public art will, as Adams likes to say, “make a place, you know, better.”


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